Monday, June 30, 2014

Genetic Engineering Is Not Just About Food

There is a lot of talk these days about GMO foods, but I find the engineering of human genes even more fascinating. Like most people, I am always looking to improve myself, but find that I am "stuck" in several areas and unable to change. Remembering back, I have always had certain personality traits that I have to say weren't (and still aren't) always easy to deal with. Sorry, mom, for all the tantrums. My mom was the Superwoman of mothers, but I still had daily outbursts, so can I blame it on genetics? Many scientific studies show that yes, I can....partly. But, does that let me off the hook? Absolutely not. While studies show that certain personality traits are genetic, obviously other factors, such as environment, family, life opportunities, etc. also play a large role, just maybe not to the extent genetics do.

I have seen first hand how medication can alter the brain and help control some unwanted and stressful personality traits, so I believe that how we act has a lot to do with the brain chemistry we are born with. Medication is a touchy subject, but for some, the benefits can definitely outweigh the risks  in controlling behaviors otherwise uncontrollable. However, there is a limit to how much we can alter ourselves genetically, so it's important to also focus on changing environmental factors, habits, parenting styles, and ways of thinking and acting in order to make improvements. I've heard many parents say they don't think their kids can change, but that's simply not true. Are kids going to be exactly how parents want them to be? Absolutely not because they are unique and complex individuals, but improvement can be achieved with the right support system and consistency. Changing genetically set and habitual behaviors takes time, but I want more parents to realize transformation is possible so they don't give up so easily on their children. And because children learn behavior from parents as well, giving up sends kids the message that they cannot change! It's a double whammy situation that works against them.

So, let's stop expecting our children to be perfect and work with who they are so they can be the best individuals possible. What I would like parents to understand is that what may be easy for them, may be very difficult for their child and it's not necessarily their child's fault. And what works for one child cannot be expected to work for another. In the article Major Personality Study Finds that Traits are Mostly Inherited I (NY Times), Dr. Lykken, a psychologist in Minnesota, says, "The message for parents is not that it does not matter how they treat their children, but that it is a big mistake to treat all kids the same. To guide and shape a child you have to respect his individuality, adapt to it and cultivate those qualities that will help him in life." I could not have said it any better myself!